Eco-friendly pest control isn’t new. In fact it’s quite ancient. Early man fought insects even before agriculture. After the beginning of agriculture the fight turned into a war. Hundreds and thousands of years ago, there simply were no pesticides to fall back on. And the early farmers were seriously motivated. The failure of a single crop could bring the threat of starvation.
Those ancient farmers were quite observant and quick to emulate what they saw in nature. That doesn’t mean they always got it right, but they tried. Various eco-friendly pest control tactics have been mentioned in the writings of ancient China, Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. While some of these tactics were rooted in religion or superstition, some had lasting scientific value. Those are the ones we still use today.
Before the term Integrated Pest Management was ever considered, the ancients were discovering IPM techniques including:
Biological control – using beneficial organisms to help manage pests
Cultural controls – using crop rotation and sanitation to reduce pests
Physical controls – using baits and traps, and burning crops after harvest
Genetic control – using pest resistant plants
Many cultures burned the remains of a crop after harvest to kill insects, larva and eggs as well as weed seeds. This technique is mentioned by the ancient Chinese nearly 3000 years ago and by the Roman Virgil, 1000 years later. Even today some farmers still burn their crop residue although climate change concerns may change that.
Burning crop residue was only one of several techniques to disrupt the life cycle of pests. Crop rotation was another technique first used in ancient China to prevent pest populations from rapidly reproducing. In the 6th century BC, the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagorus was given credit for eliminating malaria from a town by asking residents to drain the nearby swamps.
The Chinese especially became adept at using beneficial species to control pests. For example, 3200 years ago ancient Chinese texts note the use of predatory ants to protect citrus groves from caterpillars and wood boring beetles. Later on officials prohibited the removal of eggs and the hunting of both frogs and bird these species consume vast numbers of insects. Praying mantises were released in gardens among the chrysanthemums to devour leaf-eating insects.
The first mechanical insect traps weren’t created until the early 1700’s. A German physician named Franz Bruckmann designed fly traps made from a wooden box. They included a spring loaded lid and were baited with a sweet attractant. Bruckmann also created flea traps worn around the neck. They became quite popular with the aristocracy of Western Europe at that time.
Eco-friendly pest control techniques aren’t new. They’ve been refined and proven over thousand of years. For the most part they were cheap, simple and safe. After decades of using chemical pesticides, the tide began turning back to more natural methods. These techniques are collectively known as Integrated Pest Management, and they are the future of pest control.